Daily Life in the Village Societies of West Africa for Kids
Daily Life in early West Africa for Kids
Agriculture: Early West Africans lived along the rivers and in the grasslands. Different villages grew different crops. The crops you grew depended upon where you lived in West Africa. If you lived along a river, you grew rice and fished. If you lived in the grasslands, you grew mullet. People in the south, near the rainforests, grew peanuts and sweet potatoes.
Trade: People in different villages traded with each other for the foods they wanted and needed. They also traded goods that they had made. Some villages became famous for something they made or grew.
Natural Disaster: Because they were an agricultural society, a storm or a flood or an outbreak of disease could kill an entire village. The people worked very hard to convince their many gods that they were worth saving.
Religion: The people in the villages believed that one god ruled the world but that many gods were his assistants. His assistants were in charge of watching over the people in their daily life. The people believed in two worlds - the world on earth and the world of the gods. Their religion was designed to bring these two worlds together so that their elders and their religious leaders could talk to the gods of daily life and receive advice. To encourage these gods to drop by, they frequently danced, sang, rattled noisemakers, made masks, and feasted. Certainly the gods would not wish to miss such a good time.
Ancestor Worship: They also asked their ancestors to talk to the gods on their behalf. They did many things to make their ancestors proud of them, and willing to help them in their daily life, things like dancing, singing, feasting, and rattling noisemakers. That way, if they did not catch the attention of one of their ancestors, perhaps they might catch the attention of a passing god.
Magic: The ancient West African village people believed in magic amulets. People would visit the village witch doctor in hopes of finding help for their problems. The witch doctor might make them a magic amulet. This could be anything. It might be a bag with instructions not to open it. I could be something to wear around your neck. It could be something you bury and dance over. It could be a charm, something pictorial that you carried with you or hid in a certain place. Witch doctors also used the power of suggestion. The witch doctors had a solid understanding of the many herbs that could heal. Since many of amulets worked, people had great faith in their witch doctors.
Kinship and the Common Good: People who lived in villages were members of a clan, a family group. Everyone worked together for the common good. Everyone's first thought was supposed to be: "I want to do the best I can for the people in my village." Villagers collectively worked the land, tended livestock, and raised the children. The old expression: "It take a whole village to raise a child" comes from the ancient West African way of life.
Government: Each village ruled itself. The head of the village might be a group of elders or might be a chief. Whichever, the head of the village made decisions for the village, but all villagers were able to express their opinion prior to a ruling.
Griots: Most nights, after the evening meal, the villagers collected to hear the Griots, the storytellers. Some stories were about their gods. Many stories told of the village's noble history and the many happenings of their clan.
Games: The ancient West African people worked very hard, but they did leave time to have fun. Festivals were fun. Story time in the evening was fun. And games were fun. They made games of pebbles and stones and all kinds of thing. Many games were clapping games, tests of skill, balance and strength, and speed. Some were sneaky games and played somewhat like hide and seek.
Kingdoms: As time went on, West African villages grew into kingdoms. Life was different in the kingdoms. For one thing, they had kings. Some kings had palaces and hundreds of servants. Although some things changed, some things remained the same. The villagers did not lose sight of the things that were important to them - their belief in magic and witch doctors, gods and ancestors, kinship and the common good.
Today: In the larger towns and cities, there are modern homes with running water and electricity. But in many parts of Africa today, villagers still live as they did in ancient times. Homes in the villages of the Africa of today are often still built with thick mud walls to keep the homes cool in the summer. Some homes are still built on stilts to protect the villagers' homes from floods. The thick mud walls are still decorated with meaningful symbols.